Courtesy Reuters

Arabs and Israelis: A Political Strategy

The problem in the Arab-Israeli peace process in late 1985 is not how to arrange a negotiation. The problem is how to make it politically possible—even imperative—for leaders in the conflict to commit themselves to negotiate.

Making peace is first a political process, and only second a negotiating process, as the experience of the 1970s taught us. The intense negotiations of that decade, from the shuttle diplomacy of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger through the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979, followed political steps that had already demonstrated commitment to negotiation and lowered the human and psychological barriers to peace.

In 1977, we American diplomats were focusing on working papers and diplomatic formulas designed to arrange a resumption of the Geneva conference. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt saw that the real obstacle was not the failure to find the right formula but rather the doubts among both Arabs and Israelis that the other side was sufficiently committed to peace that it would change its position in negotiation. Accordingly, he went to Jerusalem to dramatize a message that Israel could not ignore: that Egypt accepted Israel and was committed to making peace.

More recently, by contrast, a political strategy has been lacking, a strategy that held reasonable promise of making an Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian negotiation happen. To be sure, some preliminary steps were taken. Early in 1985, King Hussein of Jordan, Chairman Yasir Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt laid foundations for an Arab coalition to negotiate peace with Israel. For his part, Prime Minister Shimon Peres of Israel confirmed his belief that the integrity of the Jewish state depended on negotiating peace with Jordan and the Palestinians.

Yet over many valuable months, no one constructed the scenario that would join these two political tracks. No one successfully laid out a sequence of diplomatic and political steps, a scenario designed in substance and timing to meet the political needs of each party so leaders could commit themselves to negotiate.


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